It’s, like, the meanest practical joke ever. A ruling (.pdf) from the Ninth Circuit today is fairly unremarkable in terms of its legal issues — a Booker challenge over sentencing enhancements was rejected, affirming the lower court’s sentence. More interesting are the circumstances of the crime, and just how far one pissed-off thief will go for a little revenge.
Zameer Mohamed, a shiftless young Tanzanian national who was kicked out of the U.S. for theft, fraud and overstaying a tourist visa, had a grudge against a quartet of acquaintances, apparently all of Middle Eastern origin. So he called a Homeland Security terrorism tip line from Canada and claimed that the four were planning to blow up stuff in L.A. the following week. The ruling doesn’t say what these guys did to earn Mohamed’s wrath, but considering what can happen to foreign nationals vaguely accused of terror badness these days, that’s some hardcore payback.
From the FBI’s press release after the arrest: Specifically, on or about April 23, 2004, Mohammed telephonically advised an official with DHS that a Los Angeles area mall in the vicinity of UCLA and “the federal building” would be attacked by terrorists on April 29th, 2004. Mohammed further told the DHS official that four individuals would enter United States through Canada using false United States passports to perform the attack. Zameer was interviewed by FBI Agents in Helena, Montana, last evening and admitted to making the false threat because of a dispute involving money allegedly owed to him. (The FBI release misspells Mohamed’s name, for those keeping score.)
From Betty Fletcher’s Ninth Circuit opinion: Law enforcement agencies took the threat seriously, indeed, and devoted substantial resources to investigating and preventing the purported attack. The organizations that investigated the threat and provided additional security on the day of the threatened attack included: the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, four divisions of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the Los Angeles City Fire Department, the California Highway Patrol, the United States Border Patrol, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Officials detained and questioned Mohamed’s acquaintances in connection with the threatened terrorist strike. In addition, the hoax disrupted business in the targeted areas. Various media outlets broadcast news of the threat, and the LAPD distributed flyers to warn local businesses about the purported impending attack. Business owners at or near the targeted shopping mall reported that the hoax “completely shut down business,” with some estimating that the bomb threat reduced sales by as much as sixty-five or eighty-five percent and that it reduced foot traffic in the affected shopping mall by thousands of people.
Mohamed pleaded guilty but quibbled on appeal about how his sentence was calculated — turns out the algebra for calling in fake al-Qaida threats is plenty complicated. The Ninth wasn’t buying, and Mohamed is stuck with the 60-month stretch imposed by the district court. Homeland Security should expect a warning that judges Fletcher, Tashima and Callahan are plotting to blow up the Golden Gate Bridge just as soon as Mohamed gets prison phone privileges.
— Brian McDonough